Jennifer Romolini is the Chief Content Officer of Shondaland.com and the former editor-in-chief of Hello Giggles and Yahoo Shine. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and Lenny Letter. She’s always been weird.
I’m weird too. In fact I think most of us are at least mildly dysfunctional when you set the boundaries of normal. Jennifer is a little extra special though, as she hasn’t tried to hide her uniqueness, or failed because of it.
In fact according to her book it has been the key to her success as an editor.
So firstly lets talk about "weird"... Have you always felt like a misfit even as a kid?
I always felt different, out of step with other kids, like my thoughts were weird and other kids didn’t get me or understand me. Like I was wired differently, sometimes like I was too sensitive to live. I was never comfortable with posturing, which makes up most of adolescence and I’m an overthinking person with zero chill, so the easy things — play, friendships, the multiple facets of gym class — always felt enormously challenging.
Can you tell me about a time you most felt out of sync with other people?
Everything about working in offices felt inorganic to me for so long — the stiff HR entities, office politics & cubicle farms, rah-rah corporate culture, hierarchy, “respect at work” trainings, email decorum, the way people so rarely said what was actually on their minds. I loved my field, but didn’t understand how you could exist in those environments without fundamentally changing who you were.
When did you start to realize that being different was an advantage?
Probably the most out-of-sync I felt was when I was working for a fancy fashion magazine. I felt too clumsy, too rough around the edges, too raw. I’d never been around wealth, I’d never spent $700 on a pair of shoes. That world was entirely foreign to me. But I knew that the job was a good one and I didn’t want to blow it. It took me a few months, which may or may not have felt like ten thousand years, but I finally found my niche. Let me give you an example: you know how Darwin discovered the beak-shape of Galapagos finches depends on what kind of food they eat? Finches with long beaks eat cactus pulp, finches with short beaks eat bugs. Well, I’m the finch that can eat anything. I’m adaptable as hell.
So at the fancy fashion magazine I paid attention, I studied, I learned as much as possible, as fast as possible, which was something I’d always done but never recognized as a “talent” or whatever. Pretty soon, people were saying nice things about my work, I was getting promotions. And that’s kind of when the light bulb went off and I realized that there aren’t many people in the world who can talk about, let’s say, both palazzo pants and Galapagos finches in a semi-intelligent manner, and that my weird mix of skills and experiences and work ethic had real value, and maybe I was going to make it in this business after all.
First and most importantly -- don’t fake it till you make it. There’s an entire chapter in my book about this, but the short version is: you can’t trick people into believing you’re a heart surgeon if you faint at the sight of blood, and even if by some horrible miracle you do succeed, what will you do when you actually have to operate.
Give your life experience the credit it deserves. Maybe you wouldn’t immediately think that waitressing would make me a better boss, but it did. An eclectic mix of skills can take you a long way.
Remember that nobody knows how weird it feels inside your head. You think you sound like a crazy person, but trust me, no one else knows. Also? Most crazy people are geniuses anyway.
Find your fellow weirdos. They’re out there, and they’re looking for you, too. Build a network with other people who don’t fit in. You’ll be amazed at how many of us around, you just need to get out of your head for a minute to see them.